Arlington's construction boom creates hazard for emergency communications

ARLINGTON, Va. (WJLA) - The same technology making buildings stronger and safer could actually be putting lives in danger in an emergency. That’s because the buildings themselves interfere with emergency responders’ radios.

Whether it’s police or fire, fast and clear radio communication can save lives.

Arlington's construction boom of new commercial and residential buildings has created big challenges for emergency responders. Powerful, state-of-the-art building materials often block radio communication, making it hard for police and firefighters to communicate during emergencies.

“Challenge has very much grown,” says Deputy Police Chief Daniel Murray.

Murray points to radio communication troubles at the Navy Yard shootings as a glaring example of the problem.

“Anything that delays our ability to communicate endangers the safety of the community and the safety of our first responders,” he says.

The Arlington County Board recently passed a resolution requiring all new county buildings be equipped with a distributed antenna system, or DAS.

The system, which cost the county nearly $206,000, ensures radio communication inside the building is just as clear as outside.

Under Virginia law, developers are not required to install the DAS system in buildings, but Arlington Fire Chief Jim Schwartz says many builders are getting on board anyway because it’s smart and the right thing to do.

“The more we can get the development community on our side, the more we think we’ll move this,” he says.